Ethel Easter arrived at the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston last year after finding blood in her urine and suffering from excruciating abdominal pain.
She was dealing with a hiatal hernia, a condition where the upper part of a person's stomach punches through the diaphragm into their chest cavity. In her case, the rupture was causing deep internal bruising that was visible from the outside of her stomach.
Though Easter, 44, assumed that her constant pain and worrisome symptoms would demand immediate attention, the surgeon that she initially met with, she said, was dismissive of her condition and informed her that she would have to wait two months. In an interview with The Washington Post, she described that when she insisted to the surgeon that she couldn't wait that long, he began to yell at her.
“Well, who do you think you are?” Easter recalled the doctor saying. “You’re gonna wait like everybody else.”
Easter told ABC News that even after her allegedly poor experience with the surgeon—and learning from another doctor during a separate visit that the surgeon had left "bad notes" in her file—she didn't want to reschedule her surgery at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, a member of the Harris Health System. A month after her first meeting, she was scheduled to have the necessary operation at Lyndon B. Johnson, albeit with doctors from the University of Texas Health Science Center.
But she returned to the hospital with a plan: before going under anesthesia, she tucked a small audio recorder into her ponytail in case anything inappropriate was said or done to her while she was unconscious.
“I was fearful,” she told the Washington Post. “I didn’t know if I was going to come out of the surgery, so I just wanted my family to know if something went on.”
As Easter went under, the recorder began to pick up the surgeon's conversation with other doctors in the room. She later learned that what they said was awful.
The doctors began by recalling Easter's earlier displeasure with her surgeon who mockingly said that she's threatened to find a lawyer.
“That doesn’t seem like the thing to say to the person who’s going to do your surgery," another doctor in the room replied.
But Easter insists that she never mentioned seeking legal assistance. As the recording goes on, the doctors' comments become less and less professional, eventually turning into cruel, racially-charge jokes about her body.
“Precious, yes, this is Precious over here," the surgeon repeatedly said. "Saying hi to Precious over there.”
Easter believes that the surgeon was making references to the 2009 film about an overweight, mentally disabled woman who is sexually abused by her parents. Later, toward the end of the procedure, the surgeons describe Easter's surgery as having ben full of "teachable moments" and suggest that perhaps they touch and take pictures of her.
When the anesthesiologist asks the surgeon if he should "touch her," the surgeon replies that he'll do it.
“That’s a Bill Cosby suggestion,” an unidentified person says. “Everybody’s got things on phones these days. Everybody’s got a camera.”
From Easter's perspective, the doctors' comments were sexual in nature, but what ultimately prompted her to raise issue with the hospital was the fact that her surgeon spoke on his cellphone during the surgery and seemingly ignored the fact that she'd informed him of her allergy to penicillin.
After the surgery, she was given a drug known to have adverse side-effects on people with penicillin allergies that caused Easter's arms to swell dramatically and required her to go to the emergency room days later.
“He jeopardized my life,” she told The Washington Post. “It’s just by the grace of God that I’m even alive right now. It was an unnecessary risk that he took with me.”
Not long after her recovery, she wrote a letter to Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital detailing her ordeal along with a copy of the audio. The hospital issued a deflective response:
“With regards to the recording, as I explained in my prior correspondence, we reminded the OR staff and physicians to be mindful of their comments at all times,” Stacey Mitchell, head of risk management and patient safety forHarris Health System, responded. “After carefully listening to the recording that you provided, Harris Health does not believe further action is warranted at this time.”
When asked about their employees' involvement in Easter's surgery, the University of Texas Health Science Center told ABC News that it was not in a position to comment due to patient confidentiality laws.
Now, Easter says that all she wants is an apology from the hospital and for them to own up to what they did.
"This is for all the workers and the doctors: Don’t do this," she told the paper. "Just treat people the way they would like their mother, their sister, their wives to be treated.”